The last public execution in Denmark

This is short, but sad and bloody story. As mentioned in the header it takes us back to Denmark, and what I will tell you is the story about the last execution carried out in public in Denmark. Efter this excetion, only ony more person was executed in Denmark for crimes committed in peacetime. This was nine years later and the execution took place inside a state prison. But not so in 1882. I will tell you about the last execution in a later article.

Anders "Sjællænder" Nielsen.

On 16 July 1881, a man by the name of Anders Nielsen, known as Anders Sjællander (because he was born on the island of Sjælland (Zealand) killed the 47-year-old Swedish travelling salesman Per Jönnson by hitting his head with a pole until the skull 'exploded' near the small town Savnsø on the island of Lolland south of Sjælland. The blows were so forceful that parts of the skull and some brainmatter was found next to the body (I told you it was a bloody story). The murder took place at a stone fence by a narrow country road and the body was discovered later the same day by a young girl, who got a shock from the gastly sight.

After the murder, the killer had stolen the victims money and a characteristic pocket watch made from silver. The suspicion quickly fell on the unmarried Anders "Sjællænder" Nielsen, who after the crime fled to Germany. A ransom of 100 Danish Kroner was put on his head, and he was discovered and apprehended in Germany on 21 August 1881 and extradited for prosecution in Denmark. When put to trial he pleaded not guilty, but the court decided to exhume the body of Jönnson and show it to him. The sight made him break down, and he confessed to the murder. He admitted that he wanted to travel to America (USA), but had no money to pay for the travel. As he knew that Per Jönnson had money, he wanted to get hold of those, and therefore he attacked the Swede, but he had only wanted to strike him unconsious and rob him. The court didn't grant him any mercy though, and in May 1882, he was sentenced to death. The verdict was appealed but in the end, The Danish Supreme Court uphold the verdict.

The execution took place in public as mentioned in title of the article. Almost 3,000 spectators (of which most were young men and boys) were present on a cold day in November at Sølvberghøj near the town of Munkeby, in Tillitse Parish, near Nakskov, the largest town on Lolland. The execution was carried out by a former police officer, now serving as State Executioner (or as his official title was Kongeriget Danmarks Skarpretter which could simply be translated to Executioner of The Kingsom of Denmark), Jens Carl Theodor Seistrup (January 10, 1848 to August 28, 1925). Previous to the execution of Anders Sjællænder, Seistrup had only been responsible for one excecution, the exceution of a man by the name of Rasmus Pedersen Mørke in 1881, and he was only to carry out one more excution, the one that I will get back to in a later article. So in his 30 year  long career as State Exceutioner, he actually only carried out three executions (the death penalty was not widely used in Denmark in the last part of the 19th century as most people in Denmark, including the king and many politicians actually wanted to abolish this severe penalty).

The execution of Anders "Sjællænder" Nielsen went terribly wrong though. The execution that was carried out that day, as all executions in Denmark in those days was a beheading by ax. Exceution by hanging had been abandoned several years before. Anders Sjællænder was placed on the chopping block. His hand and feet were tied to the block and his head and neck was fastened with metal rings, and Seistrup made ready to deliver the killing blow. It was a snowy day though, and the surface was covered with snow and slippery. Seistrup even had to place the block without the sniw being removed first. The slippery surface made Seistrup slip just as he stroke, and the ax hit Anders Sjællænder in his shoulder, which was almost completely cut off.  Seistrup raised the ax and struck again, but this time the ax only hit part of the neck. Only at the third stroke did it succeed in severing the head from the body. Anders "Sjællænder" Nielsen was only 29 years old, when he was executed. Anders Nielsen was buried the same day in an unmarked grave near Tillitse Church.

After the exceution rumors arose thar Seistrup had been drunk, and he actually was put on trial for it, but was acquitted, as he actually almost never drank alcohol and could explain, what had gone wrong. After the trial the presiding judge tild the prosecuto that he must have been out of his mind to even pursue the case. Seistrup later explained in an interview (around 1903) that the slippery surface, and the fact that his movements were inhibited by a group of journalists, who had made a ring around him in order to keep crowd from getting too close, because there was only one single policeman present to keep the crowd at bay and he couldn't manage that. Even if they made his job more difficult he was actually grateful for the help from the journlists as it would have been completely impossible to carry out the execution if the crowd had been allowed to get any closer. Seistrup claimed that the execution was simply very poorly organized by the local authorities. And one of the public servants who were present asked him not to go through with the job under the circumstances, but he has insisted on doing what he was paid to do. He added that even if it looked bad, Anders Sjællænder had actually been killed by the first blow, as it cut through the cervial vertebras, thus killing him, but as the head had not been severed from the body, as supposed by the law, he had to make sure that happened thus the two last blows. You can see a picture of an axe and block here (used in Horsens Statsfængsel). When an execution had taken place, the local authorities had to pay the executioner 20 kroner. These money was so the executioner could pay his assistants (he himself vwas already paid by the govenment), but the local bailiff refused to pay him because of the failed execution, and Seistrup had to pay jis assistants out of his own pocket - and he never got the 20 kroner.

By the way Seistrup couldn't make a living from being executioner. He received a yearly payment of 1.600 Danish kroner, equivalent to around $15.000 in 2021, so in order to provide for his family, he also ran a grocery store.